Archive for the ‘Enterprise / Investigative’ Category

Iraq, Afghanistan Wars’ wounded return

December 5, 2011 Leave a comment




Megan Krause left Iraq the last week of July 2006. The next month, she was a full-time student at Penn State.

“It was a nerve-wracking experience, to the point that I very specifically remember calling my mother and saying … ‘I want to be back in Iraq,’ ” Krause said last week.

Krause stuck it out though, and she came to feel that she fit in on campus. But two and a half years later, as she was dealing with the stress of preparing to graduate, the signs of post-traumatic stress disorder started to surface.

“I think I was the last person to notice it. There was a lot of alcohol. A lot of alcohol involved,” she said in an interview as part of the national Real Warriors Campaign, aimed at encouraging veterans to seek needed help. “I always just wrote it off as I’m in college. This is what you do. You know, who cares that I’m 26 years old and I’m drinking a bottle of wine in the evening just to get to sleep.”

Krause is one of the more than half-million veterans who sustained an injury while serving on active duty during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.

Since March 2003, the start of the Iraq War, 579,019 veterans have left the military and qualified for disability payments, according to a McClatchy Newspapers analysis of millions of disability records from the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs.

In Pennsylvania, the 64,913 veterans who left the service after the Sept. 11 attacks make up about 6.73 percent of the total veteran population. And, of the 95,840 veterans of all wars who receive disability payments in Pennsylvania, 13,338 — 13.96 percent — left active duty after the start of the Iraq War.

The state Department of Military and Veterans Affairs estimates that there are about 9,000 veterans in Centre County, about 895 of whom receive disability payments. Of those, 211 are Iraq-era veterans, according a Centre Daily Times analysis of the McClatchy data.

“They’ve seen a huge increase at the State College VA outpatient clinic,” said Holly Serface, director of the county Office of Veterans Affairs.

Many veterans have injuries that aren’t obvious. When it comes to documented cases of injuries for Iraq-era veterans in Centre County:

•Four have the federal VA’s highest disability rating of 100.

•11 have traumatic brain injuries.

•12 have major depressive disorders.

•23 have degenerative arthritis.

•36 have post-traumatic stress disorder.

•72 have a VA disability rating between 50 and 100.

•77 have a have a persistent ringing noise in one or both ears, a condition known as tinnitus.

One of the most common injuries, with 67 cases in Centre County, is back strain.

“A lot of that has to do with wearing heavy body armor,” said Dave Petrak, a VA program manager in Altoona, who works with Iraq and Afghanistan veterans from Centre County. “They often don’t seek help when they’re in there because they don’t want to be judged by their peers. … A lot of them, because they’re younger, they think the pain’s going to go away.”

Read more: Iraq, Afghanistan Wars’ wounded return.


Second Mile, PSU had land deal in 2002

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment


Caption: There is no construction Monday, November 14, 2011 at the site of the new Second Mile learning center in Patton Township. Nabil K. Mark 





STATE COLLEGE — Penn State sold about 40.7 acres of undeveloped land to The Second Mile for $168,500 in April 2002.

The price is what Penn State says it paid for the land in August 1999 — and about $151,500 less than what a Pittsburgh man paid for it in 1990.

Penn State originally purchased the 40.7 acres of land as part of a much larger purchase.

“The property was acquired by the university to provide the opportunity for university use, but if the property was considered not of strategic importance to the university, other community uses were definite possibilities,” Daniel Sieminski, Penn State’s associate vice president for finance and business, said in an email Tuesday.

The land sale is another example of the close relationship between the two organizations, which are both embroiled in a child sex abuse scandal because of allegations against former Penn State assistant football coach and The Second Mile founder Jerry Sandusky.

Athletes and coaches with ties to Penn State were frequently the featured players at the annual Second Mile Celebrity Golf Classic. The event was the largest annual fundraiser for The Second Mile, and it raised $240,000 in 2009, according to IRS tax forms.

In the nonprofit’s 2009 annual report, the Penn State Altoona campus and the Penn State Professional Management Association donated between $2,000 and $4,999 to The Second Mile.

The Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center donated between $1,000 and $1,999.

Several of the nonprofit’s major individual donors have ties to the university. For example, Lloyd Huck, a Penn State trustee emeritus, and his wife, Dorothy, are listed as members of the Arthur C. and Evelyn M. Sandusky Society, a designation for honored Second Mile donors.

The Second Mile, a charity in crisis, may not recover

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: The Second Mile charity offices are located at 1402 S. Atherton St., December 2, 2011. Nabil K. Mark 





Guidance counselors in the State College Area schools have stopped referring students to The Second Mile’s early intervention youth programs.

Educators in the Bald Eagle Area, for now at least, don’t plan to hand out trading cards, with positive messages and the images of Penn State football players, that the organization distributes.

And whether a significant number of schools will continue to participate in the nonprofit’s leadership conferences is one of many uncertainties.

“We don’t know the status of that organization going forward,” said Dena Cipriano, spokeswoman for the Philipsburg- Osceola Area School District.

The future of The Second Mile has come into question since the Attorney General’s Office released a grand jury report Saturday, alleging that the organization’s founder,

Jerry Sandusky, sexually abused eight boys over 15 years. The report said he was introduced to the boys through The Second Mile programs.

Some educators said they felt betrayed by the news.

“I have been a public school teacher for 23 years. During that time I have referred many children to The Second Mile,” Bellefonte resident Susan Munnell wrote in a letter to the Centre Daily Times. “It makes me sick to now know that I could have been throwing them to the wolves — wolves that prey on innocent, at-risk children seeking acceptance and positive role models.”

Others cautioned against punishing an entire organization because of accusations against one person.

“We’re not going to paint everyone with the same brush,” said Penns Valley Area School District Superintendent Brian Griffith.

Solar Savings: Deals net local schools green energy, learning tools

November 21, 2011 Leave a comment

Caption: Project Manager Rick Vilello talks about the 2152 individual solar panels on the roof of Bald Eagle Area High School and Wingate Elementary Schools combined October 11, 2011. CDT/Nabil K. Mark





WINGATE — At one Bald Eagle Area School District building, solar panels cover more than half the roof. That’s equal to about two-and-a-half football fields— end zones included.

“It’s funny to think, Bald Eagle Area, in the middle of Centre County, one of the most rural school districts — and this is one of the most high-tech buildings in Pennsylvania,” district construction manager Rick Vilello said while standing atop the roof on a foggy day recently.

Lots of districts have tried to lower their energy bills — from building biomass boilers

to turning off teachers’ coffee pots in classrooms. But Bald Eagle Area and Bellefonte Area school districts have taken an unusual approach through a private partnership:

Solar panels provide about half the energy for the Bald Eagle Area middle and high school building, as well as the connected Wingate Elementary School. In the neighboring Bellefonte Area School District, two elementary schools — Pleasant Gap and Marion-Walker — and the high school have solar energy systems, too.

So far the savings from solar energy are modest — about $12,000 at Bald Eagle Area, and less than that in Bellefonte, based on an analysis of data provided by the districts.

But leaders there say the panels didn’t cost the districts or local taxpayers any money, serve as an education tool for students, provide certainty for future budgets, and could become bigger cost savers in future years.

“Really it was just an opportunity that came up during the renovation,” said Dan Fisher, superintendent for Bald Eagle Area, which has nearly finished a $26 million construction project at Wingate Elementary School and the middle and high school building. “And everything fit together.”

But not many Pennsylvania school districts are in a position to imitate Bellefonte and Bald Eagle Area.

“Solar, right now, is not attractive,” Damion Spahr, vice president of business development for the Harris-burg- based Reynolds Construction Management company, told Philipsburg-Osceola Area school board members during a meeting this month.

Two main barriers exist for schools. Federal and solar energy grants have diminished. And the market for solar renewable energy credits — which provide revenue for owners of solar panels — has plunged by about 90 percent since last year.

Carlisle Area School District leaders, for instance, told community members that their $2.35 million investment in a solar system would pay for itself within four years. But in today’s market, the system is bringing in less money than expected. As a result, the payback is looking closer to 10 years.

In Bald Eagle Area and Bellefonte, a partnership with a private finance and investment company, Smart Energy Capital, let the district avoid those barriers. They also aren’t affected by the downturn in the solar renewable energy credit market.

Both school districts don’t own the panels, didn’t pay to have them installed and aren’t responsible for maintaining them.

Instead, Smart Energy paid for the solar panels with help from about $2.2 million in state grants. The private company then installed the solar panels on district roofs.

“In essence, what we’re doing is leasing our roof space,” said Ken Bean, director of fiscal affairs for the Bellefonte Area School District.

Workers finding a future in gas drilling

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment
MONDAY, FEB. 7, 2011

PLEASANT GAP, Pa. — This time last year, Eric Klinger, 19, made his living delivering pizzas. His friend, Matt Bartholomew, 20, worked in a factory that manufactured pharmaceutical products.

Now, after a six-month course, they work for Halliburton, driving trucks, hauling supplies and doing some manual labor at natural gas drilling sites. They both started at salaries of between $45,000 and $55,000 a year — higher than the wages of most Pennsylvanians, according to U.S. census data.

“Nothing wrong with that,” Mr. Klinger said with a laugh.

Added Mr. Bartholomew: “The company that we’re in with, they’re saying 30 to 40 years they’ll be here. So it should be a reliable job.”

Mr. Klinger and Mr. Bartholomew are two of the thousands of workers hoping to make careers out of Marcellus Shale gas drilling. More than 70 percent of the people working at Marcellus Shale drilling sites come from out of state, according to a November report by Tracy Brundage, managing director of Workforce Development and Continuing Education at Pennsylvania College of Technology in Williamsport.

Educators such as Larry Michael at Penn College and Todd Taylor at Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology are working to change that.

They’ve adjusted their curriculums and added new courses, trying to provide the training that people will need to get jobs related directly and indirectly to gas drilling.

“This is something we’re really jumping into,” said Mr. Taylor, director of secondary education at CPI. “They’re long-term jobs, well-paying jobs, family sustaining jobs. Hopefully, [they’ll] replace a lot of the jobs that have been lost in the manufacturing area.”

Read more at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette website : Workers find a future in gas drilling.

Read more at the Centre Daily Times website (The CDT’s version is longer): Workers finding a future in gas drilling.

Eric Klinger checks the oil level on an excavator during his Heavy Equipment Operations class at the Central Pennsylvania Institute of Science and Technology on Wednesday, January 12, 2011. CDT/Christopher Weddle CDT/CHRISTOPHER WEDDLE 

Bald Eagle Area School District leaders look again at drilling leases

August 22, 2011 Leave a comment


SUNDAY, AUG.22, 2011


BOGGS TOWNSHIP — In January 2007, landmen made Bald Eagle Area school board members an offer.

They wanted permission to drill into hundreds of acres of district land, hoping to extract natural gas from a formation that few people had heard about: the Marcellus Shale.

The two sides negotiated and agreed that T.S. Dudley Land Co., of Oklahoma, would pay $125 an acre to lease the mineral rights to about 224 acres north of South Eagle Valley Road, behind the high school, and to 330 acres south of the road, behind administration offices.

That deal netted the district $69,226 over the next five years — that’s roughly enough to cover the salary for one teacher, earning the district average of $44,640, for about a year and a half.

“At that time, I think most people in the area thought that was a fair price,” said Bald Eagle Area School District Superintendent Dan Fisher, adding that the district consulted with a Williamsport attorney before signing the deal.

Four and a half years later, no drilling has taken place on district land, gas companies have paid 10 times as much or more for such leases, and district leaders want to negotiate new contracts.

But they may be stuck with the two current leases until 2017. The gas company that now owns the leases, Chesapeake Energy, can opt to renew them, provided it meets certain, fairly broad, conditions.

In July, The Associated Press reported that thousands of Pennsylvania residents signed lowball leases in the years preceding the state’s gas drilling boom.

In some cases, landowners leased their mineral rights for as low as $2 or $3 an acre. On some land, landowners say gas companies have done minimal drilling with the goal not of finding gas, but renewing favorable leases. Some of those landowners have filed lawsuits.

“There’s just too much money at stake — between a $3 lease and a $7,500 lease — for the operators to walk away from,” Robert Jones, an attorney in Endicott, N.Y., told the AP. He represented a group of landowners who sued successfully in federal court to shed their old leases. “They’re desperate to hold on to them like the landowners are desperate to get rid of them.”

It’s not clear exactly how much Bald Eagle Area could get for a new lease.

Outside consultants recently told board members that gas companies have been willing to pay $1,500 to $2,000 per acre for similar leases.

Eric Cummings, a Clearfield attorney who specializes in natural gas and oil real estate issues, said in 2010 companies were paying between $1,500 and $3,500 in the Centre County area.

If Bald Eagle Area’s original leases had been negotiated at $1,500 per acre, the district would have taken in about $831,000 for the first five years.

“At the time that this was negotiated, this was a very new business,” said Bald Eagle Area school board member Tom Letterman. “So we were all learning.”

Read more: Bald Eagle Area School District leaders look again at drilling leases.

Thursday, May 22, 2008, Section: , Page: , Matches: , Word Count: 000000  Caption: Bald Eagle Area School District Superintendent Dan Fisher points to Centre County’s place in the Marcellus Shale distribution on Thursday, May 22, 2008.


Sidebars from charter school series

August 19, 2011 Leave a comment